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January 15, 2013

International Experts Weigh In on Reducing Gun Violence

Gun Policy Summit PanelWith a wisdom born of experience, Mick North of Scotland was the first of four international gun control advocates to speak during day two of the Summit on Reducing Gun Violence in America. His intentions: to share how his country made meaningful changes in response to violence.

Within two years of the massacre at Dunblane Primary School in which his daughter was killed, handguns were banned in Scotland despite fierce opposition by the gun lobby, North reported. The legacy of Dunblane, he said, is that gun control advocates now are listened to by politicians, and gun crime in Scotland is at one-third the pre-ban level.

“I know that what we did… is not a solution that would necessarily work in the United States,” North said. “But after a tragic event like Dunblane, or Sandy Hook, it’s important to keep the issue alive; keep pressure on those who make legislative changes.”

Rebecca Peters and Philip Alpers, both from Australia, and Antonio Rangel Torres Bandeira of Brazil, echoed North’s wish to his American colleagues for strength and success in improving U.S. gun laws. They also reported case studies of their countries’ responses to gun violence.

Peters credited “a very broad coalition” of hundreds of organizations across the political spectrum for bringing about a speedy sea change in Australia’s gun policies in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre on 28 April 1996, a killing spree by a single shooter that left 35 dead. Sixteen years later, gun violence is 50 percent reduced, Peters reported, and there hasn’t been a mass shooting since.

“This became a mainstream concern,” she said, “not just an argument between two opposing lobbyist groups. There was willingness to face the ire from a minority of extremists for the sake of public safety.”

Comprehensive and uniform new laws across Australia’s states and territories included weapons bans and strict licensing standards; in addition, buy-back programs resulted in a massive reduction in the national stockpile of guns.

Antonio Rangel Torres Bandeira reported that Brazil, like the U.S., had permissive gun laws and lawmakers influenced by a powerful gun lobby. His country has managed to reduce gun violence with campaigns and slogans like “Hand in your weapons, protect your family!” that call for civil disarmament by emphasizing the substantial risks for suicide and domestic homicide in homes with guns.

The public sessions of the Summit, led by Daniel Webster and Jon Vernick, directors of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, concluded at noon Tuesday. Later in the day, a press conference was held to announce recommendations drafted by the experts during an afternoon working session. –Maryalice Yakutchik